Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Macey senses a connection between a 1959 barn fire and an arsonist's attack on an inner-city church. PW wrote, "Even though Macey's introduction to prejudice and her unshakable nobility are slightly overdrawn, she remains a sympathetic figure." Ages 12-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
To quote KLIATT's Jan. 1999 review of the hardcover edition: Macey, age 15, lives happily in a wealthy town in Connecticut. When her teacher assigns a local history project, she decides to investigate a fire in her grandparents' neighborhood that took place 38 years ago and left a man homeless. Oddly, no one wants to discuss it, and when Macey finds out that the man was the first African American teacher in town, she's more determined than ever to find out what really happened. Her resolve is further strengthened when she's almost killed in a fire set by an arsonist at an inner-city school where Macey had volunteered to paint. When the African American girl she met there is later killed in street violence, Macey decides to take a good, hard look at the racism she hadn't realized existed in her communityand in her own family. Another plot line deals with her new boyfriend, Austin, who's living with his grandparents while his parents sort out their relationship. This look at racism and family relationships will most likely appeal to readers like Macey, who is just learning about becoming part of the solution instead of standing by and ignoring social problems. Cooney isn't subtle about spelling out her messages: finding your own "true colors" and putting out "the fire of hate." These are important messages, though, and perhaps this novel will open some readers' eyes to racism in their communities. KLIATT Codes: JSRecommended for junior and senior high school students. 1999, Random House/Dell Laurel-Leaf, 230p, 18cm, $5.50. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; May 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 3)
Down the road from her grandparents' Shell Beach, Connecticut, home, fifteen-year-old Macey Clare discovers the foundation of a barn that burned down nearly forty years ago. Naturally curious, Macey wants to know more about the barn and the circumstances behind the fire. So, she begins asking her grandparents and their neighbors. But, when Macey finds normally friendly people evading her questions, her desire to learn more about the barn only increases. Macey meets up with another neighborhood teenager, Austin, and together, they begin to gather facts about the barn's mysterious fire. They learn that the last inhabitant of the barn was one Wade Sibley, the first and only African-American teacher in this small Connecticut town. Macey suspects racism and her hunt for the truth leads her to a conflict that unwittingly tears her once perfect hometown and family apart. Caroline Cooney, author of many fine young adult novels, writes another fine coming-of-age tale where young love--Austin and Macey eventually become an item--and the desire for truth and justice become intertwined in a moving and convincing read. Genre: Family/Friendship/Racial Issues. 1999, Delacorte Press, Ages 12 up, $15.95. Reviewer: Kimberly Quackenbush
VOYA - Hillary Theyer
This story, about teens experiencing young love and trying to solve a mystery from the past, also tackles our country's racial divide. Fifteen-year-old Macey lives in an idyllic Connecticut town, where her mother grew up and her grandparents still live. At an inner-city church Macey meets Venita, a tough-talking but likeable girl. When an arsonist sets fire to Venita's church, Macey is scared and intrigued enough to begin investigating a racially motivated fire in her town from 1959. Rebuffed by the town residents, Macey enlists the help of Austin, a new boy in town living with his grandparents, and the two form a close bond as they explore the town's history. When Austin's grandfather asks him to stop Macey investigating the 1959 fire, his relationship with his grandparents is jeopardized. Macey and Austin discover that the 1959 fire was set to burn the home of the town's first African American teacher, and though nobody admits to setting it, their grandparents watched with the rest of the town and did nothing. These revelations trouble the teens as they reexamine the kind of people their grandparents were at the time. Austin's grandparents are his safe haven away from his parents' rocky marriage, while Macey's are like second parents. When Austin has to leave, Macey is left to figure out how her perception of the town has changed her. Venita is killed in gang crossfire while defending the children in her church, making Macey wonder if 1959 and 1997 are really that different after all. Although the background on race relations sometimes threatens to overwhelm Macey and Austin's story, the plot moves along and stays right on track in this complex and thought-provoking novel. The deep and well-written characters provide a look at the relationship teens have with their grandparents uncommon in most YA novels. This title is more suited for older YAs because it is a more serious book than Cooney's Face on the Milk Carton (Bantam, 1990/VOYA February 1990) and most of her other works. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
(Gr 7-10) -- Researching a local-history project for school, 15-year-old Macey happens upon a 1959 arson case that targeted the first African-American teacher in her privileged Connecticut town. Shocked to learn that her community could have been so racially biased as to tolerate this attempted murder, she is further outraged when she realizes the extent to which her community remains segregated. Using library and Internet resources as well as interviews, Macey and her boyfriend, Austin, gradually uncover enough facts to confront the prejudice they perceive in others and begin to assess their own level of responsibility. This story line is strong. Clever phrasing and likable central characters enliven the story. The emotions are palpable, and the topic is important. Unfortunately, other details detract. Coincidentally, Macey, Austin, and friends are nearly killed by an arsonist while performing a community-service project. Coincidentally, the black girl Macey worked with is soon killed in an altercation with a gang. Macey and Austin live as neighbors with their respective grandparents and their romance is sweetly portrayed. However, it seems unrealistic that Austin would rather go back to Chicago to hope for his parents' reconciliation than finish the last three weeks of school with Macey. Extensive foreshadowing seems melodramatic and overwrought. It rankles that the word "fire" or related terms are present on more than one-third of the pages. Macey's investigation into racism is heartfelt and her personal commitment to action is laudable, but the book is not entirely convincing. -- Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Jr. High School, Iowa City, IA
If you've read The Face on the Milk Carton, Whatever Happened to Janie?, or any of this bestselling author's other novels, you know that Caroline B. Cooney is a master at unraveling suspenseful yarns. As they unwind, these stories tug on our curiosities and pull us deeper and deeper into her characters' lives and circumstances. Cooney's newest, Burning Up, will grab your attention with equal force.
When 15-year-old Macey Clare decides to research a barn fire that happened decades ago in her small Connecticut town for a school project, she's met with a confusing, stony silence everywhere she turns. Even her parents and grandparents refuse to answer her questions about what happened that night 38 years ago. Why? Everyone, including her teacher and the librarian at school, encourages her to study another subject. Macey thinks this is very strange, but she grudgingly cooperates and begins researching the boring topic of the impact of railroads on her town's history.
Then, one Saturday, when she and her pals are helping to paint the classrooms of an inner-city church, Macey barely escapes a raging fire. As the fire roars around them and the teens run for safety, Macey's long hair catches fire. It is Austin who smothers it with his own shirt. If it weren't for her friend's fast reflexes, Macey might have burned to death. Now, with smoke lingering in her nose and lungs -- even days after the fire -- and her head covered only in short wisps of her remaining hair, Macey's curiosity about the barn fire 38 years ago returns.
Could there be a connection between the barn fire and the church fire in which Macey and her friends almost lost their lives?
Now Cooney's magic begins to blaze. Readers will be riveted in their seats, unable to put this novel down until its last page is devoured.
Macey enlists Austin's help, and together the two teens bravely piece together some answers about what happened the night the barn burned down. They discover that a man once lived in the barn's apartment, and that the man was also the very first black man hired to teach in the town's middle school. Macey's mother remembers the man well. In fact, he was her very favorite science teacher. Forty years later, Macey's mother can still remember specific lectures Mr. Sibley gave. If that's true, Macey wonders, why can't her mother remember the fire? And why do her grandparents, such jovial people normally, get so tight-lipped and evasive when she asks questions about that night? Does Macey have the courage to crack the town's stony silence and find out the truth -- even if it's an ugly truth about her own family?
Burning Up is a fast-paced, literary firestorm that will sweep into the hearts of teen readers and help them wrestle with difficult issues of race, prejudice, family secrets, and the profound destructiveness of hate, especially the quiet and polite kind of hate that gets institutionalized in some exclusive towns across America. This also is a story of courage -- courage that not only allows people to survive raging fires but also inspires them to stand up for what's right. Cooney's characters are complicated and drawn with depth and even some unexpected humor. Warming this story up even more is the crush that begins to smolder between Macey and Austin and the friendship that unfolds from the crush's energy. Cooney has done it again. Burning Up sizzles.
From Cooney (The Voice on the Radio, 1996, etc.), a hard look at the tacit, unacknowledged racism that lurks beneath the surface of an affluent, supposedly enlightened community. Macey loves her Connecticut town. Her grandparents, Papa and Nana, provide a home for her during the frequent absences of her upwardly mobile parents; school and friends are great; and handsome Austin is taking a flattering interest in her. The only thing that worries her is the reaction she gets from everyone she asks about a mysterious fire in 1959 that destroyed a local barn, and a renovated apartment within it, where a black teacher lived. When Macey is assigned community service painting an inner-city church, she is paired with a parishioner, Venita, and they bond, immediately. That day, however, an arsonist sets fire to the church, and they and others are almost killed. Macey is shocked at the viciousness of the act, and more curious about the long-ago fire near her home. When Venita is killed trying to protect a little girl from a gang, Macey grieves and begins to question seriously the chasm of hate between blacks and whites. The truth about the 1959 fire, which was deliberately set and witnessed by those closest to her, nearly destroys her. This thought-provoking story has a powerful message, effortlessly woven into the ordinary trappings of a teenager's life. Cooney allows for no cozy ending; as Macey faces what racism has done to her community, readers will question what it has done to theirs. (Fiction. 12-14) .
From the Publisher
"A powerful message, effortlessly woven into the ordinary trappings of a teenager's life." Kirkus Reviews
Read an Excerpt
How strange Macey felt around Austin: this lifelong acquaintance she did not know well, this neighbor who had saved her life, this cutie.
You got a crush on that boy? That one named for Texas?
"Nothing special," she said to her mother. "It's just a stick. By the way, Mom, when the Demitroffs' barn burned down, back in 1959, was somebody living in it or not?"
"It's so upsetting when you keep bringing up fire, Macey," said her mother. "Did you tell us everything there is to tell about getting your hair burned?"
"Now that I've felt fire, I'm interested in fire." The word fire wasn't quite right. It was arson that interested her. But she hadn't told her parents about any arson. "I'm doing it for my history paper."
"Oh, Mace," said her mother. "You're going to have to put so many hours into this project. At least choose a topic that matters."
"I'll ask Mrs. Johnson about other topics," Macey said. She might, too, although she'd be asking about topics for Austin. She was staying with the fire. "But I still want to know. Did anybody live in that barn? In 1959?"
"My science teacher. Mr. Sibley."
"There was an apartment then?" said Macey.
"Oh, yes, it was such a sweet place. Everybody oohed and ahhed when they saw it. Of course, I never saw it when Mr. Sibley was living there, but most years it was rented to a new teacher, and I'd bring a plate of Mother's cookies or a casserole and say hi and welcome to the neighborhood, and I'd wander around and inspect the apartment."
"But you didn't bring cookies to Mr. Sibley?" said Macey.
There was a slight pause. "I don't remember," her mothersaid.
But you do remember, thought Macey. You remember you were never inside when Mr. Sibley lived there.
Until now, Macey had forgotten the other pause, the faint pause before her grandparents answered questions about that old fire, and once more, the old fire prickled at her.